Isometric lat-pulldown and shoulder press combo
Works: Upper back, shoulders and arms.
Setup: Stand tall with your shoulders low and relaxed, chest and rib cage lifted, and abdominals contracted. Raise your arms over your head, cross your wrists and make two fists. Tightly contract all the muscles in your hands, arms, shoulders and upper back; hold this contraction as you perform the exercise.
Movement: Uncross your wrists and lower your arms to each side, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do, until your fists are level with your shoulders. Still holding the contraction, raise your arms to the starting position again.
Thinking with your muscles: Imagine you’re trying to raise and lower your arms slowly while holding a heavy object in each hand. You’ll feel this in your arms and upper back as the arms go down and in your shoulders and arms as they go back up.
Works: Chest, shoulders, triceps and abdominals.
Setup: Lie facedown on the floor, heels upward and toes down. With your fingers pointing forward and your elbows bent, place your palms on the floor just in front of your shoulders. Push yourself up by straightening your arms, so that you’re supporting your weight on toes and hands. Pull your abdominals in and keep your spine, including your neck, in a straight line.
Movement: Lower your entire body one or two inches toward the floor by bending your elbows out to the sides. Hold for a slow count of five. From the new position, lower yourself twice more in the same way, until your body is just off the floor. Then raise yourself back through the previous positions, holding each for a count of five.
Thinking with your muscles: Although the main purpose of this exercise is to strengthen your chest, shoulders and arms, much of the control and holding power you need comes from your torso. Concentrate on keeping your spine straight and your abdominals strong.
Prone shoulder circles
Works: Upper back, shoulders and abdominals.
Setup: Lie facedown with your arms stretched in front of you, palms down and fingers pointing forward. Your legs should be straight out behind you, your toes softly pointed. Pull your abdominals in and tilt your pelvis downward until you feel your hipbones make firm contact with the floor. Keeping your arms straight, raise them a few inches off the floor and gently squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Movement: Make a slow, wide circle with your arms until they’re against your sides with the fingers pointing toward your feet. Slowly reverse the circle and bring your arms back to the starting position.
Thinking with your muscles: Imagine that you’re doing the breaststroke. You’ll feel this exercise in your upper back and shoulders.
Isometric twist and crunch
Works: Abdominals and waist.
Setup: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head so that the thumbs are behind your ears; don’t lace your fingers together. Tilt your elbows slightly inward and tip your head back a little. Round your lower back into the floor by pulling your abdominals in toward your spine and tilting your pelvis upward.
Movement: Curl your head, neck and shoulders up off the floor and twist from the waist toward your right knee. Hold for a count of five. Without lowering yourself, twist from your waist toward your left knee; hold for a count of five. Again without lowering yourself, twist to the center and hold for a count of five. Return to your starting position on the floor.
Thinking with your muscles: You’ll feel a strong pull through your abdominals until you lower yourself to the starting position. In this exercise, you’re using your abdominals not only to flex and twist your spine but also to hold you up. The stabilization they provide is important to good posture, everyday movement, and sports and fitness activities.
Alternating oblique crunch
Works: Abdominals, waist and hip flexors.
Setup: Lie on your back with your legs raised directly over your hips and your knees slightly bent. Place your hands behind your head so that the thumbs are behind your ears; don’t lace your fingers together. Tilt your elbows slightly inward and tip your head back a little. Round your lower back into the floor by gently pulling your abdominals in toward your spine, and curl your upper body upward until your shoulder blades clear the floor.
Movement: Moving from the waist and leading with the left shoulder, twist your upper body to the right. As you do so, move your right leg a few inches back toward your left elbow. Without lowering yourself, twist your upper body to the left, at the same time moving your left leg a few inches back toward your right elbow. This is one repetition; do all reps before lowering yourself to the starting position.
Thinking with your muscles: Again, your abdominals act as stabilizers while they flex the spine. Do this exercise slowly, and concentrate on feeling it in your middle rather than in your legs or hips.